One Great Foster Family

A person reading my entry “One Child’s Horror” earlier today wrote and asked a number questions about the foster family I stayed with for over 4 1/2 years. Her questions has led me to this entry.

This blog entry is dedicated to Mom and Dad Monshor, who provided me the only positive, loving experience of my early childhood. Although they were not allowed to adopt me legally, they did so within their hearts, as I adopted them within mine!

From the day of my birth until shortly past my eleventh birthday, I was moved to eleven foster homes and four institutions. One of the foster homes I was fortunate to be moved to three times and spend a total of 6-1/2 years at, was the home of Mom and Dad Monshor.

I began this entry calling Ernest and Mildred Monshor, Mom and Dad. They will always be Mom and Dad to me. Although they were never allowed to adopt me and I was removed from their home three times, they are the only people I have ever considered my parents. I loved them as a child, I love them even more now as an adult and I will love them until I take my final breath.

I first came to the Monshor home days after my second birthday, remaining there six months before being moved.

After four brief months with another family, I was returned to the Monshor home where I would remain for two years. I was removed a second time in 1954 and moved to three different foster homes in the next 1-1/2 years. In 1956, I was returned to the Monshor home and would remain there for the next four plus years.

My second and third times with the Monshor family were the most stable times in my short life to that point.
They were also the most loving times. I know I was not considered just another foster child. I was treated and loved as one of their own. At the time Mom and Dad had a grown son (Raymond, aka Sonny), an adopted son (Dennis) and two adopted daughters (Susan and Genevieve). Over the years, they had also taken in over thirty foster children for various lengths of time. No matter how long you were with them, you were considered and treated as a member of their family.

There are many fond memories of my childhood years with Mom and Dad.

As a small tike, I was sickly, having whooping cough more than once. The doctors feared I might die from it. There were many nights when the coughing would begin, Mom would get up from her bed to carry me in her arms over her shoulder, gently patting my back until the coughing stopped. This could occur more than once a night.

It was Mom and Dad who recognized I had a problem with my left eye (lazy eye) and saw to it that steps were taken to try and correct it. I underwent five surgeries and therapy. Unfortunately it was to no avail.

Mom sat with me the night before I was to have my tonsils removed, comforting me as I was a scared five year old, and seeing to it that there was ice cream and a smile for me when I came out of surgery.

On Sundays, the kids would all be sent to church. When we came home, we went to the downstairs kitchen to gather around the large rectangular table.There was Dad stirring his infamous big pot of spaghetti sauce, ready to feed the troops. It was so, so good! Dad was a cook in the US Army during World War II and was an excellent cook.

Their adopted son Dennis died in 1954 at age 14 due to an enlarged heart. Though I have no recollections, Mom and Dad told me later of the closeness Dennis and I had, and how protective he always was of me.

I was confirmed in the Catholic Church early in 1960 by Cardinal Deardon of Detroit. I did not tell anyone prior to the ceremony the name I had chosen to take for my confirmation name. Afterwards I told Mom and Dad I took the name Dennis to remember him and to honor them. I still remember Dad’s broad smile and Mom being Mom, all teary-eyed.

Their son Raymond (aka Sonny) proposed to Marge at Christmas 1953. I didn’t understand what he was doing, so I asked. When I found out, I remember telling him, “No, you can’t have her…she’s my gal!” I loved his fiance and whenever she came over, I ran to her and clung to her. She was very special.

During the last four years of a somewhat stable home enviornment, I started school. I attended kindergarten through third grades at St. Gabriel. Mom would sit with us kids after dinner around the table and help us complete our homework assignments. Baths, bedtime prayers and bed soon followed.

Many nights, Mom would come to my bed to tuck me in and to sing me to sleep. Her favorite was a revised song containing the words of “When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother, what would I be, here’s what she said to me.” I still find myself humming that song today when I am feeling really down in the dumps…it usually brings me out of it and puts a smile on my face.

Then there were trips in Dad’s 1957 Studebaker. It was black and hot in the summer. It was before the days of air conditioned cars. How I enjoyed those rides with hot air blowing in my face…NOT!

Mom so tenderly planted and cared for her garden. Each spring the back yard would come alive with color.

I was removed from Mom and Dad’s home a second time a month before Christmas in 1954. I have no memory of Christmas 1954 or 1955.

I do remember Christmas 1956 however, as I was back home. The Saturday before Christmas, Susan, Genevieve and I were sent over to St. Gabriel School for a Christmas program. When we left the house, it was devoid of anything Christmas. What a difference when we returned a few short hours later.

Outside Dad had strung Christmas lights…the big old fashioned ones.

Inside, the tree had been decked in it’s Christmas finest. On the fireplace hung five stockings. Inscribed on each was, Mom, Dad, Daughter, Daughter and Son.

I remember asking Mom, “Who is the Son stocking for?…Sonny?” Mom said, “No, that is for YOU!”

My heart still feels the love and warmth of that statement. I don’t remember what I got that Christmas, but the most important thing I received was LOVE. I have no childhood memories of other Christmases…this one was/is special.

In the early fall of the year Mom pulled out the canning jars, then spent hours cooking and canning beans, tomatoes, beets and peaches, to name a few. She also made batches of applesauce and an out of this world apple butter.
At the same time, Dad would be making his chili sauce of tomatoes, onions, red/green papers…like today’s salsa. Dad was making it long before it became popular.

I can still almost smell the alluring aroma of Mom’s apple pies. They were both great cooks.

Back then, parents were parents. In the pantry, on a hook, was Dad’s old Army strap. Neither Mom or Dad were bashful in using it if I did something to deserve it. The only damage it did was cause a temporarily bruised ego and a little reddening of the behind. I admit I earned the strap on a few occasions. It did me far more good than it ever did me harm.

From 1956-1960 my life had a degree of stability though I could be snapped up and removed to another home at any time. It was during these years I remember thinking for the first time; “Why was I not a member of any one family?” “Why didn’t anyone want me?” “Why didn’t anyone love me enough to make me their son?” “Why did I keep getting moved from home to home?”

Oh, so many fond memories. I have shared but a few here. If only this could be my permanent home, my family.

The stability of four years came to sudden end in May, 1960, when I was abruptly removed from the Monshor’s home.

I remember that fateful day of May 17, 1960, like it was yesterday. We had celebrated Susan’s sixteenth birthday two days previously. I scampered through the alley from school heading home.

Upon entry into the backyard, I saw Mom. She was crying. She came to me and held me. I looked up and could see inside the enclosed back porch, what had to be a social worker. Without a word being said, I knew then why Mom was crying. I was again going to be taken from the only ones I ever called Mom and Dad.

I broke down crying as Mom held me tightly. I tried as best as a ten year old could to reassure Mom. I told her, “It’s okay Mom, I’ll be all right. No matter where they send me, you’ll always be Mom.”

With that, I dried my eyes, went inside to “paper bag” my worldly possessions not knowing what would be in store for me. I knew I had to be brave for Mom! I packed a just a few possessions in the bag and went out to the living room. There was Mom standing by the social worker still crying. She asked where were all my other things? I told her she might care for another little boy and I would want him to have them.

I, one more time, hugged Mom and told her I loved her and to tell Dad the same. With that, before starting to cry again, I told the social worker I was ready. I ended up being the last foster child Mom and Dad would care for.

As the social worker and I made our way to the front door I could still hear Mom crying. I had to keep walking. Throughout all this the social worker said nothing. Little did I know, I would never again be returned to Mom and Dad’s home.

However, Catholic Charites didn’t know I was already a very determined young boy and that they could not break the bond that had been established. Six and a half years of my ten years of life had been spent with the Monshors. They had cared for me and loved me, my feelings toward them could not and would not be changed.

The removal from their home did not end my relationship with the Mom and Dad.

I was sent to another foster home where I was to stay for nine months…it was a house of horrors.

In April 1961 I was sent to Boys Town, Nebraska where I would remain for the next seven and a half years.

During those years I remained in close contact with the Monshors. I considered them to be my family no matter what anyone said.

Upon my graduation from Boys Town in 1968, I was released as a ward of the court. I was considered an adult and able to do as I wished. I continued to write and visit Mom and Dad. Yes, though I had not lived with them for eight years, they still were Mom and Dad to me.

I wrote them during my college years and as I went out in the world to make it on my own. I visited them whenever I could make my way to Detroit.

How well I remember my last visit when I saw Dad. He was sitting in the kitchen as the visit ended. I got down on my knees to give him a big hug and tell him that I loved him. He didn’t seem to want to let go. When he finally did, I looked up at him and for the first time I can remember, saw tears in his eyes.

Dad was not a very demonstrative man. That day he seemed to be telling me that he knew this would be the last time we would see each other. It was his way of saying good-bye and also that he loved me. I took him back in my arms to hug him once again, and to let him know I understood what he was saying and to repeat that I loved him. We both ended up in tears.

On October 15, 1975, Ernest Monshor (Dad) died at age 66.

Just eight short years later on April 24, 1983 Mildred Monshor (Mom) also passed away at age 71.

Mom and Dad never told me during their lives that they attempted to adopt me as their son. I would learn of this only after Mom’s death, during the search for my birth parents.

If they could have told me, it would have eased the pain of my youth thinking that I was a child not wanted. I believe they, in their own protective way, thought they were again shielding me from hurt and don’t hold their not telling me against them.

Mom and Dad had attempted to adopt me in early 1960. They were denied with no reason given. It was just weeks after that I was removed from their home.

A couple years after Mom’s passing I decided to write Sonny Monshor. I wanted to share some memories of Mom and Dad with him and also hoped to obtain some pictures of them and myself during my childhood years.

I had not heard from Sonny at this point for over a quarter of a century. I did not receive a reply to my letter to Sonny and thought that this would be the end of my story and relationship with the Monshors. I would be left alone in this world and just have my memories of them to cherish.

Eighteen years passed since that letter to Sonny. Many times  I had thought of writing to Sonny one more time…each time I responded with a NO. I did not want to get hurt again.

On April 15, 2003, I had a change of heart. For some reason I could no longer tell myself no. I wrote Sonny a short letter. I have to be honest and say I did not expect a reply.

I worked nights. So I can sleep during the day, I turn the ringer of my phone off. Many days I leave it off after I awake so I am also not bothered by the bombardment of telemarketers. I let my answering machine screen calls. Well, many days I tend to forget to even look at my answering machine to see if there are any messages on it. I do this even though the machine is right next to my home computer and I am at it everyday.

On Monday, April 21, 2003, after not checking my machine for a few days, I suddenly looked over at it. I saw there were two messages on it.

WOW! You could have blown me over with a feather when I listened to the first message. “Hi Larry, this is Sonny Monshor.” There were a couple things in between, but ended with; “Marge is with me, and she’s still my gal.” Memories of that Christmas night in 1953 (50 years prior) came flooding back again. I was overwhelmed and on cloud nine!

I didn’t even listen to the second message on the machine. I immediately attempted to return Sonny’s call. The line was busy and would remain so for the next half hour. Talk about the need for patience…grrrrr 🙂

After the sixth attempt, I heard the phone ringing. Marge answered the phone and I asked for Sonny without identifying myself. I heard Marge yell out to Sonny, “I think it’s OUR Larry!” She also came back to me saying, “It is Larry, isn’t it?” “Yes, Marge,” I responded. My head was still spinning from the words “OUR LARRY.” OUR, I had not talked with them in now over forty years.

My last time with them was in 1959 when Sonny got a job with NASA. They came to the house to say good-bye to the folks. I remember crying as I clung to Marge and Sonny and the two little girls I considered my nieces, Gayle and Maryann…forced to say good-bye to people I had grown to love.

Soon Sonny came to the phone. “Larry, how are you” he said. It was like we had last spoken only yesterday, rather than 40+ years ago. Then without hesitation, the shocker of the call came.

I heard Sonny say, “Do you know WE tried to adopt you?” Yes, I learned Mom and Dad tried to adopt me once,” I said. “No, not Mom and Dad…Marge and I,” was the reply. I am briefly stunned. “What do you mean,” I said. Then out came yet another surprise.

“Mom and Dad tried to adopt you when you came back home in 1956. They were denied. When that happened, because Marge and I loved you so much also…we then tried to adopt you. We wanted you as part of OUR family. We saw how you loved Gayle and tried to be her big brother…and we wanted you to be.”

“Oh my God, I never knew of Mom and Dad’s first attempt and had no clue you ever tried. You aren’t kidding me are you?” That was my reply.

Sonny then shared how devastated Mom and Dad were when they were denied in their adoption attempt. They wanted so much for me to permanently be part of the family…and to be their SON.

I now understood why the SON stocking was hung on the fireplace that Christmas in 1956. Mom and Dad were hoping it would become true!

Sonny and Marge had married in 1954. Marge had Gayle as her first born and then Maryann. They wanted a son as well as a big brother for the girls. I fit the role perfectly and they also loved me. I would also permanently be a part of the family, though Mom and Dad would then be called Grandma and Grandpa. Instead of having Sonny as a brother and Marge as a sister-in-law they hoped to become Mom and Dad. They were not approved and no reason was given.

I would have been happy and proud to call them Mom and Dad. I would have been able to call Sonny’s parents Grandmother and Grandfather. A year later they made their move to Florida never to see or talk to me again until this day…44 years later!

I just found it so hard to believe, though I knew it was true, what Sonny was telling me. Not ONCE but THREE TIMES someone told the foster care system they wanted me as their son. Three times they denied the request. I kept going back to this as Sonny and I continued our lengthy conversation. It had to sink in. To think I was allowed to go through my childhood into my adult life thinking no one wanted me as thier son.

Maybe it is better I am just finding out recently of these attempts to adopt me. I know I am better able to deal with the pain I feel now than I would have been able to as a 6 year old, or eight year old and even as a ten year old. Now I know how untrue this feeling actually was. I knew I was loved and now I know I was wanted far more than I ever even imagined before.
Sonny and I, and Marge, as she was on a second line, talked about so many things as time rolled by. He recalled the story of Christmas 1953 as if it were just yesterday along with other memories. We talked about our lives since those days.

Marge ,at one point, interjected how different I sounded. I had to remind her I was no longer the soprano voiced nine year old she remembered, but now a man of fifty-three. I hope my voice had changed 🙂

I brought up the subject of my letter of eighteen years prior. Yes, Sonny remembered getting it but never being able to reply to it. It was lost. They had hoped throughout these past years that I would write again so they could contact me. Here all these years I believed I had been rejected. Oh so many lost years because of a simple misunderstanding!

Sonny told me that he couldn’t remember how many times over the years that he and Marge had thought about me; how they had talked of me and wondered how I was, where I was and what I might be doing?

As I sit here writing this I think of the years I thought Sonny looked at me as just another of the foster kids Mom and Dad had in their home. I now find out that it was his heartfelt desire…if he couldn’t have me as his brother…he wanted me as his SON! What an awesome thought. I have chills running down my spine as I think of it. Oh, how wrong I had been.

There were many other thoughts shared during this conversation, but I choose to keep them within myself.

We ended our conversation, so grateful on all our parts, that this day had finally come. We would write, talk on the phone and hopefully soon be able to see each other face to face again.

They provided many the old family photographs which has allowed me to see myself not as a blank slate between my baby picture and a picture at age eleven, which has been the picture for over 40 years.

That night at work, despite the length of conversation, I wrote a long letter to Sonny and Marge. The one thing I remember saying was, “I would have been happy and proud to have been able to call them Mom and Dad.” I enclosed with the letter pictures of me at eleven and eighteen along with more recent pictures. They can see me as the youth they remember, and now as the adult I have become.

The loss of forty-four years of sharing with Sonny, Marge and the girls weighs heavily on my heart. The feeling of “what if” and “if only” repeats itself in my mind. SO many opportunities lost; so many could have been memories never to be memories. How different my life might have turned out…though I will not sit here and complain.

Alas, I cannot dwell on what has happened as I do not have the ability to undo anything. Things have happened and are forever written in the chapters of our lives. But today, we are given a new opportunity to create a new chapter in this book of life. To create memories, to create sharing experiences and most importantly…to share the love that has always been there for each other. Now that we have found, we will not let the opportunity for a second chance slip through our fingertips.

In May 2004, at their invite, I travelled to Florida to help them celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I spent a great four days with them. I went home with even more photographs of my childhood, including a photo taken of me at 3 days old.

Marge has suffered a major stroke since my trip. She also suffers now from severe dementia. She has been in a nursing home for over a year and a half and has survived death’s call more than once during this time. Sonny also has several medical issues.

I hope and pray that my finances will alow me to make another trip to see them before either of them are called home.

I have spent the past forty years in the search of this peace within myself. I now know that not only did someone love me, but also wanted me as a Son. I found a degree of comfort, in finding my birth parents, siblings and extended family…but nothing compares to the peace I have now. I know now, my long searching journey is over. I have found what I have been looking for these past many years. I am home, I have my family…I can ask no more of life.

My life has now come full circle. From the Monshor home full of love and acceptance, to many years of wandering in the wilderness of life not knowing if anyone cared, to home again with people I have always loved.

I know I will do other research, as the interest in genealogy is there. But the searches will be for genealogical purposes only…I have found EVERYTHING else that I was searching for.

I know throughout my life, in a spiritual way, that I have not walked alone. In real life, many times I have felt I have…that feeling will be no more!

Rest in peace Dennis…Rest in peace Dad…Rest in peace Mom…I’m home.

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One Child’s Horror

      Could you survive such emotional, psychological or physical traumas?

      You go through childhood barely remembering what your mother smelled like. Since you never knew your mother, you’re moved from home to home 16 times by the age of 19 feeling you had about a hundred mothers.

      In the process of being moved all over the place, you lose your brothers and sisters, a particular pair of shoes that felt just right, your absolutely most favorite cuddly, and a certain place on the inside of your last crib where you used to scratch with your fingernail to help you go to sleep.

     You’re placed in a juvenile detention center when your only crime was not having a family of your own, and raped numerous times with no one paying the price, giving up on life and attempting suicide at the young age of ten?

      I’d like to share a story with you about a little boy who has just been born.

      He should be wrapped in his loving mother’s arms with his mother’s scent all about him, and with family gathering ‘round, full of joy at his birth. But he doesn’t feel those loving arms nor hear the sounds of joy. He is moved from one nursery to another. He is alone.

      Days, weeks and months go by. The calendar moves toward his first birthday, yet he still remains…alone!

      He hears someone…a stranger…calling his name. Someone is picking him up and saying they are taking him home.

      Years pass. He has heard strangers repeat his name and say “Pack your bag…you are leaving!” ten different times. He is only six years old. Each time he has heard it, he had just begun to make friends…now they are gone. He begins to feel comfortable where he is, but now it’s time to move again. Stability and permanence would be words in a dictionary, not in his ordinary life.

      Each move has brought him to unfamiliar surroundings and people. Each time he has had to pack his “brown paper bag” with all his worldly possessions. The bag is never full. No one has yet called him Son…he is only called by his first name. He hears he is a foster child for the first time. He hears the word “bastard” in relation to him as well.

      No one loves him. He doesn’t belong wherever he has gone. He is treated differently than others and no one wants him. He has no permanent home. He walks from school to his temporary home slowly, having developed a fear that it may no longer be his home when he gets there.

      He suddenly finds himself in a home where things are different, where he is treated with love. He is treated as part of the family and starts to lose his fear of leaving school to go home. He is getting comfortable where he is.

      He is in this home one, two, three years. He believes he has finally found a home. He has made and kept friends for longer than a few months. He passes a fourth year and is half way through another.

      He arrives home from school one day and sees a stranger in the house. He slows down going up the walkway and begins to tremble. He sees the one he loves and calls “Mom” crying. The stranger in the room is a caseworker from Catholic Charities. He goes to his Mom to hold her…to cry with her and comfort her.

      He knows what this means and packs his “paper bag” once again. Carrying it, he is walking out of the house he has known for four and one half years as home. He looks back as he is slowly driven away…he knows in his heart he won’t be back to live here again.

      He is placed in a juvenile detention center with young men who have committed every imaginable crime. His only crime is he has no parents or home to call his own.

      He is the youngest boy on the block, as well as the smallest. Though he attempts to fight, he is unable to overcome the attacks of older boys. He is repeatedly sexually assaulted.

      One day after being assaulted and left naked in a cell, he feels his life is no longer worth living. He attempts to hang himself with a belt, but is discovered and placed in isolation. Those responsible for the repeated rapes are never charged.

      He lives in isolation for over two months while yet another temporary home is found for him.

      He is in a strange place once again. He is in a new school and has no friends. He is treated as a stranger. He is not a part of this family. He is forced to eat alone.

      He is given but one meal a day, and no seconds were allowed. This forces him to steal from classmates’ lunches to lessen his hunger pangs. The back porch serves as his bedroom both in summer’s heat and winter’s cold.

      Christmas comes…the only gifts he receives are the clothes that were given him by the St. Vincent de Paul Society a week earlier as his semiannual clothing allotment. There is nothing from this family for him under the tree.

      Months pass. He is told to “pack his bag.” They are coming for him in the morning. He is being moved yet again.

      He is asleep this last night, when suddenly he is jolted awake. Before him stands another person…exposing himself. He intends to have the boy remember his last night in this house. The boy screams out in terror and lashes out every way possible.

      He hears someone coming, asking, “What is going on?”

      He tells his story, but is not believed. He is told, “You no good, ungrateful, lying little bastard! No wonder no one wants you! Get your bag and get your ass out of this house!”

      He hears and feels the hard slap and sting of a hand across his reddened face. He is forced to sit on the outside stoop in the cold night, to await them coming to get him in the morning.

      He is picked up, and soon on a plane for the first time in his life and doesn’t know where he is being taken. The person taking him is not speaking to him. He lands in a place he has never heard of and has no idea where he is, only that he has been moved again.

      You have been reading this for just a few minutes. In that short time, this young boy has been moved 15 times. He has been uprooted from the only place he considered home and the people he loved. He has made friends and lost them. He has changed schools. He has been made to feel a part of a family and as a stranger. He has been sexually assaulted. He has attempted suicide. He is alone again. He is but 11 years old!

      Can you imagine how this young boy felt? I don’t need to imagine any of the story just shared with you or the feelings this young boy felt. It is a story not just about any little boy. It is a TRUE story…and I WAS that young boy.

      I was placed in foster care the day of my birth. Though my birth mother had indicated months before my birth that she was placing me for adoption, the home for unwed mothers did nothing prior to my birth to arrange one. I spent my first six months in the nursery of the hospital where I was born and then was moved back to the nursery of the home for unwed mothers for almost another six months. The merry go round of the system had already begun.

      Shortly before my first birthday I was placed in a foster home…already in three places by age one and none to really call home! I was bounced from place to place; a total of 15 times in 11 years. I sometimes slipped through the cracks and got shuffled around unnoticed and forgotten. No reason was ever given for the move, nor was I ever spoken to about moving. I was voiceless as others controlled what was to happen to me.

      What were they thinking when they sent me to a foster home without telling them about the special ways I needed to be handled because I had never stayed anywhere long enough to get attached to anybody? And when that family got rid of me, and the next, and the next, did they think I was going to take it all lying down? Did they think I was supposed to just be sweet and adorable and ready to connect to yet another family who was going to throw me away?

      After a while, I had lost too many people that I might have cared about. I had been with too many “parents” who really weren’t, because they couldn’t hold me tightly in their hearts at all. No one understood how I was being changed by all these losses (in my heart and in my behavior).

      I was always living on the outside looking in. I thought when I was little everyone was the same; only to find out I was treated differently, not because of who I was, but rather what I was.

      I lived in a world of never knowing; where I would live, who would take care of me, or where I would go to school. I never knew if I would ever be secure again, where home is or where I belonged.

      I rarely had friends as I was seldom in one place long enough to make them. I didn’t know what it felt like to attend the same school more than a year or so.

      One is always movable once you have no home to call your own. A home is not just a place to lay one’s head. A home is where you can stay, where you can be comfortable, where you know you will always be safe and secure.

      Once I got used to all the moving and different schools I somehow found within myself a space to furnish as I would my room, finding scraps of things I could embrace. I could at least become comfortable knowing I was alone, knowing I would be the only one who is going to look out for me.

      I became known as a loner. I depended on nobody but myself. This caused more problems.

      I built brick walls and didn’t let anyone in. Once the walls were in place it took much to take them down. If they start to come down and something happened, I would put them back up higher than they were before.

      Each time I got hurt, the walls were built higher. I lost much time in keeping those walls high and strong. I had no trust, no bond, and it made it hard to build a relationship. If I was lucky enough to find someone who was willing to fight for me, I still would not totally depend on them, which hurt them. I saw the pain in their eyes, which in return, hurt me even more. The hurt only caused more pain and started the walls to be raised again, or I ran and kept on running, from one relationship to another.

      My childhood is almost impossible to trace. It was only years later and after many years of research that I was able to begin putting it all together.

      I was an enigma tangled up in a mystery. I was the lost puzzle pieces swept under the rug. I was a missing link in a chain of life. I had no roots. I was like tumbleweed blown in the wind calling home wherever the breeze took me. I was a chameleon changing colors to blend into my surroundings.

      My losses were etched upon my face and within my eyes pain for which no penance can atone. How could I be forced to move continuously from place to place?

      At age 11 the state gave up on me and sent me off to Boys Town, Nebraska to be someone else’s burden, even though I was born in Detroit, Michigan. They put an 11 year old boy who had never been out of Detroit or on a plane, with a caseworker who would not say a word to me throughout the over four-hour flight as to where I was being sent.

      Aging out of the system was my sixteenth and final move. I was basically thrown out on the streets as the system washed its hands of me. Whether I had gained a support system or not, I was now considered an adult and sent out on my own. It was up to me to make it or not.

      It is no wonder I have moved a number of times in the years since. I was used to it! Yet, somehow despite what I had endured, I survived with a peculiar grace, even though my heart should have turned to stone as I was moved about from place to place so very often.

      The system was responsible for providing my most basic needs as a child. By basics I don’t mean simply shelter and food, but a stable home life, the knowledge that someone actually gave a damn about me, self-worth, and most importantly, the ability to trust those responsible for me! They did not even come close to achieving them.

      As a child, all I ever truly wanted was a place to call home, a family to love me, someone to call me SON! I don’t think I desired too much…one family I could love and call my own! Because of the system, those simple desires NEVER became a reality!

      How did I feel during and after my years in foster care? I felt pain and anger, like a nobody, unwanted, depressed, and in constant fear of what each new day might bring. I also felt, worthless, a failure, second class, alone, depressed, that no one understood, felt no one really cared about me, and that life was not worth living.

      During the years on the merry-go-round of the foster care system I questioned: What was wrong with me? Why didn’t anyone want me? Will I ever have a family?

      These were just a few of the feelings and questions that haunted me throughout my childhood and beyond. At that time I did not realize that the problem was not me but the “system” itself.

      That is the impact and damage the foster care system caused that I had to overcome. The damage only began to be reversed when “the system” made the decision to give up on me. Yes, they actually made a decision that I was the failure and sent me off to an orphanage for boys for someone else to deal with.

      Actually, it was their failure and their sending me away, which began my redemption…the beginning of the repair that would be necessary if I were not to become what I felt I was, or what “the system” had already determined I was.

      I arrived at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys; better known as Boys Town, Nebraska an embittered young boy, angry at the world, caring less about school, hating any type of authority. I was already well on my way of becoming just another failing statistic of the system. I would go from fifth grade through the tenth with this type of attitude.

      It appeared to me that all Boys Town wanted to do was to keep me there until I aged out of the system. Teachers passed me on from grade to grade no matter how little effort I made. By the end of my sophomore year, I ranked near the bottom of my class. It was not due to lack of intelligence but rather that I just didn’t care.

      Going to college was something that never even entered into my mind. No one was there to attempt to deal with all the anger that was within me.

      Things slowly began changing. Three people entered my life that was to have an influence upon me. They took it upon themselves to take a young man under siege in his life and teach him to reach for his fullest potential. Though all three are now deceased, they continue to influence me and will do so for the rest of my life.

      The Executive Director of Boys Town took me under his wing as I went to work for him as his cook’s assistant. We spent hours talking. He always had an open door for me when I felt I needed to talk. He provided me with a “father” figure, missing from the early days of my childhood. He went further out of his way to support me than his position required.

      As a small child I loved to argue. My tenth grade English teacher that year saw something positive in my argumentative nature. She kept me after school one day early in the school year. She talked to me about my arguing and how she saw it as ability, if it were directed in the proper way. I had no idea what she was talking about.

     She took me to another English teacher, also the coach for the newly begun Speech and Debate Team. She simply told him, “I think I have a debater for you.” Yeah, I could now argue, and get away with it!

      The debate coach, of course, let me know that with the ability to argue, I now had to prove my case. This meant lots of hard work researching the question being debated. It also meant that to be part of the debate team and go to tournaments, my grades had to improve. I was determined to do whatever it took to make the team.

      Someone finally saw something positive in me!

      I made the novice debate team that year. I was a good debater, even though rough around the edges. My senior year; I made the varsity debate team. My partner and I were, if I say so myself, great. We were rarely defeated. We traveled throughout the Midwest on weekends during the season, accumulating numerous trophies as winners of the tournaments. Our record at the end of the season was 289 wins as opposed to only 29 defeats.

      I finally felt I had accomplished something. I was worth something. I could do more with my life than the low expectations the foster care system and I had previously set for me.

      When that light bulb went on in my head, I knew I had a decision to make that would determine where my life was headed. I could sit on the sidelines of the highway of life whining about my childhood, blaming others for my failures and actually make my life a failure. Or, I could decide to say, “OK, I was dealt a bad hand at birth and my childhood had been a disaster. However, now is the time for me to travel the road of accepting the responsibility for my actions and determine my life is in my control and no one else’s.”

      It was not a difficult decision. The highway of whine and blame is a well traveled one…too crowded for my taste. I was alone in my life, no matter whether I was willing to accept it or not…I was responsible for my future. I decided to travel the highway of responsibility!

      Graduation from Boys Town is different from any other high school graduation in the country. You are not only graduating high school; you are also losing “your home.”

      At Boys Town the graduation ceremony was at 2p.m. and all graduates had to be off campus by 5p.m.Graduation meant I was now an adult and it was time for me to go out into the world and make whatever mark on it I was capable of. It meant that for the first time in over seven years, I would once again be “homeless.”

      With a few final good-byes and wishes of good luck it was time to go; time to “leave my home.” The only good thing was that this time I was not leaving home with only “a paper bag.” I was leaving with suitcases of clothes, boxes of books and mementos collected over seven years. I also carried with me a fully paid college scholarship. I had gone from near the bottom of my class to the top five per cent. It was the only way I could afford college

      There I was at eighteen with no place to go. Though I had received a scholarship to college in the fall I spent that summer in a small dirty apartment then on the streets and shelters surviving in anyway I could until fall. I was determined not to be the “failure” the system had classified me to be.

      Boys Town had given me a diploma and opportunity. The foster care system, that had moved me time and time again, gave me a letter only stating I was now on my own!

      I went on to receive a college degree. Only two per cent of those who age out of the system ever receive a college degree. I have had a successful professional career in the years that have followed.

      Facing obstacles during my childhood did not end the challenges I would face later in life. Years were needed to overcome the damage inflicted by the system: finding out at 53 of the one foster family that attempted to adopt me three times only to be turned down each time, there would be the years of searching for my immediate birth family and ultimately being rejected by them…to name but a few of them. The will to survive garnered during my childhood along with my deep faith would prove beneficial when facing each of these obstacles.

           Today I battle for reform of the system. I write articles, I speak to groups, blog and have authored a book–anything I can do to cause change in the system so youth in the system today will not face the same issues I was forced to face.

My web site: http://www.larrya.us
     

We CANNOT Afford not to Care

There are over a 500,000 children in the foster care system in the United States today, with about 123,000 available for adoption. The majority of them are over the age of four years old. Children are more likely to be adopted if they are under the age of four. The more time children spend in the foster care system, the more likely they are to display abhorrent behavior and the less likely they are to be placed in a permanent home/adopted.

Many of these children need not have been placed in foster care in the first place. Numerous cases for removal are unjustified. Problems that may have existed within their homes could have been remedied through preventative measures as simple as training or providing the necessary tools to improve parenting skills.

Once a child is removed and placed within the foster care system there is a definite lack of concern for these children within the system. It is the responsibility of the judges in each county to see that the law is followed and adhered to. The softhearted approach has left hundreds of thousands of children in limbo. That has a serious detrimental effect on their self worth, psychological, and social abilities.

The court system is not watching out for these children and acting in their best interest. This is a difficult situation to remedy. There is already federal legislation in place. I could certainly explain to you that federal government could put pressure on the state governors as they appoint family court judges. Regardless of what you hear on television and read in the newspapers, our federal government is not too terribly concerned with the children of this country. That is evident in their continuous reduction of funding for public schools and their lack of concern with this very rectifiable foster care issue, among many others.

I receive letters from foster parents around the country and the overall feeling I get from them is that they are frustrated with the current lack of policy enforcement and they are genuinely concerned for the welfare of the children in the foster care system. Foster parents are not evil people who could not have children of their own to torment. They are overwhelmingly caring families who open their home to strangers, children, who they do not find so strange.

Foster parents enjoy the privilege of caring for the children that are placed in their homes and do not wish to have that privilege taken away from them. Making a home for children who have been poorly cared for is their reward, and a very satisfying one for them. What do they say? Who do they talk to? Most foster care families fear speaking up because they fear their homes will be closed. The squeaky wheel may sometimes get the grease, but it can also be replaced. As foster families testimony and concern will be heard louder than non-foster care families it is important that they speak.

We can no longer afford not to care.

Thousands of youths age out of foster care each year across the country, many to live on their own, without the support, education or social skills to do it successfully.

“Age-Out,” is a term used that refers to children who become of legal age and are no longer required to stay in foster care, have a higher than average incarceration rate and a higher than average drop-out rate. They are adults, if you will.

What these children/adults are not, is properly prepared for their self care. “After aging out of foster care, 27% of males and 10% of females were incarcerated within 12-18 months. 50% were unemployed, 37% had not finished high school, 33% received public assistance, and 19% of females had given birth to children. Before leaving care, 47% were receiving some kind of counseling or medication for mental health problems; that number dropped to 21% after leaving care (Courtney and Piliavin, 1998).”

This is not only unfair to these children it is unfair to society. This is also directly related to the child feeling rejected, or “unwanted,” not an inability by the foster parents to raise the child. If all proceedings were initiated based on the law and in the best interest of the child, a large percentage of these children could have been placed in loving, permanent homes long before they aged out of the system.

Some kids who have lived healthy lives can’t manage on their own at 18 or even 21, but we expect these broken, emotionally battered kids to do it on their own after having left the only family they’ve known for years — the state.

“It’s important to remember that kids don’t go into foster care voluntarily. It’s not camp!” They’re there because someone didn’t do their job properly or in some cases they’re abused, neglected or abandoned. They have a whole host of issues, trust issues with adults, trust issues of others, their own sense of self, their own place and families. When they leave foster care, many of those issues haven’t been resolved.”

How do we change our foster care system, which has less than a 50 percent high school graduation rate and where substance abuse, teen pregnancy and homelessness are common, to a system that creates a majority of high school and even college graduates and where poverty and crime are no longer a trade mark of our foster care alumni? Unless our government can rely on the numerous adults in the lives of those children, there is no hope.

This is hard to imagine, since some children leave a home environment that the state has deemed unsafe, only to find them in an even worse situation. There are a minority of foster parents who abuse children, many therapists who do not listen to their young patients and professionals on every level of the system who ignore their legal duties and who choose to extinguish the cry for help instead of seeking justice. These are terrible travesties. We, as a society, should work to bring these horrors to light.

We spend millions documenting every aspect of the cars that come off the assembly line or out of the concept shop, sometimes before they’re ready. States are eager to fund new stadiums for keeping professional teams. However, the state doesn’t even keep up with the aged-out kids who fall off the state line before they’re ready, mostly without health care or adequate education or social skills. Instead, we tell them to go forth and prosper. When states get into trouble financially the first programs cuts are those affecting children.

We can no longer afford to ignore these now young adults. This must be the year when we improve the lives of children whose parents have been the State and its residents. Yes, that’s us.

Listen to them talk about making it anyway, or at least trying anyway. I dare you not to care. And when you’ve really gotten to know them, I dare you not to do something about it.

As I began work on this article, I knew that if anything were remembered of my words today, it would likely be the pain and suffering that the system perpetuates. That saddens me, for I have been that child. I have been the child seemingly lost within the system as I was moved from one home to another. I also experienced loved within the system; not from the system itself but from at least one set of foster parents.

How is it that I experienced both, a life of pain and abuse and a life of love and happiness, all within the same system? Foster care is composed of unsung heroes and unpunished villains. I still deal with the emotional pain of the negative parts of my past, but I finished high school and then college, I have a home. I can say all of those things that so many of our nation’s former foster care youth cannot because I had something many of them did not. I had a few people along the way who cared and who were able to help me to overcome obstacles placed before me by the system itself.

One of the most obvious blemishes of the foster care system is the tendency to tolerate abuse and leave excellence unrewarded. Unfortunately, when abuse is allowed to continue, it often ends up in headlines because an innocent child is found dead or nearly dead. When greatness is left untreated, however, it eventually goes away.

The system needs to reward professionals who choose to be more observant of the children on their caseloads. It is only common sense to pay attention to the individual needs of each child and meet those needs by following individualized case plans and not allowing “cure-all” answers to push aside the needs of real people. Since my eighteen years as a foster child (1950s & 1960s), there has been three huge initiatives in our country that were supposed to fix every case. For many years it was thought that a successful case should end in reunification with biological family. Only a few short years later, our federal government decided that adoptions were the real success story. Sadly, I would not have been a good fit for either of these plans. Recently a sudden burst of independent living mania swept the nation. Suddenly, there was something wrong with any young person who did not want to move out on their own at age 16. Though any professional who evaluates cases based on best interests would say otherwise, our federal government would have called my case a failure because I aged out when I turned 18.

The state took on the role as parent for children within their care. How can one parent take care of over 500,000 children individually? They can’t and shouldn’t try. There are plenty of people who want to help in the raising of our nation’s foster children. We just need to find the best illustrations of social workers, foster parents, judges and therapists that our system has to offer and when we do, we need to make examples of them for others. We need to raise the bar for anyone who might not be giving their all because they see no point in doing so.

We no longer can afford the system to fail our children. We can pay now or we will definitely pay later due to incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and even children having children; starting the failed cycle all over again.

The system is a failure. In order to begin to change it; US, the public must get involved and demand it. These children are our future. The future to be determined by them will be what we determine to do now!

The system needs more good workers, heroic foster or adoptive parents and judges/professionals willing to make the hard decisions and base them strictly by the law. The system needs the proper funding to meet the needs of the children; not only while they are in the system but for the initial years for those who, after all has been done truly in their best interest, age out.

If we truly believe the children are our future, that all life should be protected and no child should be left behind, we must put action behind our words. To do any less makes us hypocrites and liars and our words are meaningless!

The Government and WE are Responsible

With ALL the problems in our nation’s foster-care system, nothing short of a major overhaul would serve as a lasting solution to this national disgrace. For years, children have been sentenced to navigate the system have been promised refuge from abuse and neglect in their own homes. However, without the state/county agencies being held accountable by no one, foster care remains as inconsistent, abusive neglectful and dysfunctional as many of the homes from which the children were removed from in the first place.

Without cohesion, leadership and accountability, the system continues to fail too many of the 500,000-plus children assigned to it. Once these children age out of the system at eighteen, the state sees the effects that this broken system has on society. It’s like all of a sudden you’re 18 and they expect you to be an adult, but the system doesn’t teach you to be an adult. It’s one thing to be sad about being in the system but still have a roof over your head. It’s another to be sad and homeless and unemployed. That’s what the stats say I will become.

For the 20,000 youth nationwide who emancipate — or “age out” — of the foster- care system every year, nothing is more terrifying than the number 18. It is on this birthday that these youth, many abused and neglected before and after entering the system, are expected to instantly become responsible adults. While many children outside of the system are eager to leave home at this point, their parents often serve as a safety net in times of financial or emotional need.

Most emancipated foster children do not have this luxury. They are moved from house to house, forming few, if any, long-lasting ties to any of the adults they are forced to live with. Then, at eighteen, they are instantly cut off from a system that never prepared them to live on their own.

Former U.S. Rep. Bill Gray, vice chairman of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, aptly observed: “There are a half million human beings who could lose their potential. How many future doctors, how many teachers, how many lawyers, how many public servants are in that group? Because of instability, neglect and abuse at the very beginning of life, because of no permanency and no family, we lose what they could become. That’s a loss you cannot measure.”

There have been enough studies on the plight of foster children in our nation. Study after study has quantified the struggle for young people in the foster-care system. This is not “someone else’s problem.” The 500,000-plus children in foster care and the 20,000 who emancipate each year are OUR collective responsibility!!

The government must act now to begin to fix the broken home that they have built. The moment a child is taken from his or her home and placed in foster care, the law mandate is to either reunify the child with their family, or find him/her a permanent home through adoption. If that foster youth reaches 18 and emancipates from the system without either, the state has failed them.

Each year, the state fails approximately 20,000-plus foster youth, who, once they turn eighteen, are no longer eligible for foster-care services such as housing. During this pivotal time, many of these youth find themselves with no place to live, and no one to turn to.

Here are some statistics we fail to see. Only half of foster youth will graduate from high school. Fewer than 10 percent of foster youth enroll in college and only 2 percent actually graduate. Many foster children go through multiple placements and can attend up to five different schools. Building classrooms won’t help them. They need the guidance and support to ensure that they go to school — and graduate.

More than 25 percent of foster youth will become incarcerated within two years after they leave the system. Building prisons won’t help them.

We say we must invest in critical infrastructure. Foster care is a system whose infrastructure is a disgrace — invest in fixing it and in the children whose lives depend on it.

As responsible parents, we need to make it possible for more children to live safely with their biological families. We should revamp the federal-funding structure to channel resources into programs such as substance-abuse treatment, counseling, training, housing and employment assistance that can keep fragile families from falling apart. These changes are cost neutral; they simply reflect commonsense approaches that would enable us to use existing federal resources more effectively to support children and families in need.

We can also get involved on an individual basis one child at a time by becoming a mentor or tutor, giving foster youth reliable support from someone who holds high expectations for them and encourages them to see a better life for themselves. To mentor or tutor a foster youth not only benefits the recipient, but it is also one of the most rewarding endeavors in life, showing a young person that you care and can be relied upon, even through challenging times. Cost of mentoring or tutoring youth: An hour or two of your time each week.

Employers have the ability to offer foster youth a life-changing opportunity as well. By hiring young people living in foster care and training them for successful careers, employers provide foster youth with a critical start toward a lifetime of self-sufficiency. Cost of offering and promoting jobs or internships for youth in foster care: Insignificant!

Sometimes, tangible items can have tremendous impact on a young life. Foster youth often lack the funds to pay for an after-school computer class, musical instruments or art supplies. Items that most of us would consider basics, such as school backpacks or supplies for a science fair entry, also may be out of reach. Cost of donating to nonprofits benefiting foster youth: A tax-deductible contribution to fit your budget.

Most important of all, for those children who may not be able to remain with or return safely to their birth families, thousands are needed to open their homes and their hearts and become full-time foster or adoptive parents. The lasting commitment that results from creating a new home is one that can be pursued by couples, married or unmarried, single people and partners. Cost of creating a new, loving family by parenting abused and neglected children: Priceless!

Don’t forget these children

Why I Continue to Care about Foster Care

Many have said or asked in the past few years: The days within the system for me are long past. Today it is someone else’s problem. Why do I continue to care about what happens in the foster care system today?

Though some changes have been made to the system, it is still pretty much the same failed and broken system of my day. Thousands of children continue to have the innocence of their youth stolen from them. Many are doomed to a life a failure before their lives really have had a chance to get started.

I am of the firm belief, until former foster children regain the voice taken from them as a child and speak out, in whatever fashion they are comfortable, very little within the system of yesterday or today will change for the better. It has taken me years to recapture my voice…it will now not be silenced!

Yes, years have passed since my days within the foster care system. However, memories and reflections of those eighteen years still are at the forefront of my mind today. The trauma it caused so many times, though diminished somewhat in memory, remains in the depths of my soul.

No, they did not deter me from reaching goals in my life. I decided early on in life that they would not and went about seeing that it did not happen to me. It was, at many times, a hard and painful struggle. Despite what the system put me through…I made it!

I’ve reflected many times about my being a “paper bag boy.” Each move required me to pack my bag to take to the new home. In the 1950’s and 1960’s paper bags were used for this purpose. I remember how humiliating it was to place all your worldly possessions in a bag and still have room to spare.

Today “duffel bags” are used in may areas. Many feel this is an improvement. Yes, it is more dignified. However, one does not fully realize the damage done to a child emotionally each time he or she is told to pack their bag. Each move makes the child feel less and less of a person. One feels they are second-class and not worthy of a place they can truly call “home.” Being a “paper bag boy” damaged me but each of fourteen moves did far more damage. How can one ever justify fourteen moves by the age of eleven?

We kids, were supposed to adjust to what ever was thrown at us. Many are not in a good mental state of mind when they enter the system. We went to a strange facility, a strange family and on it goes. We could be moved at a drop of a hat and expected to adjust. Who helps us? Talks to us? Asks us “What is the problem?” No time for that! Just “put” us “somewhere”…”anywhere!” Yeah, sometimes they ask, but for the most part they just don’t care.

Foster care for teenagers is even harder to find. Issues with teenagers scare many foster parents. Teenagers sometimes run away or skip school. Foster parents often are reluctant to take on these problem children.

Adoptive parents are hard to find for older children, as I was to find out. One of the saddest things about this situation is we children realized we do not have a real family. We moved from foster parents to foster parents. This often means changing schools. Moving so frequently made it difficult to develop lasting friendships or to begin to know and trust our teachers.

School can be a scary place for foster children because we have moved so much. We longed for the stability most enjoyed as children. We wanted friends and a stable home life. Often we felt left out and different at school.

How can a society expect a child to grow up feeling good about themselves if every few months or years they find themselves being moved again. This is done with no explanation ever being given to the child. I considered myself a failure with no self-worth by the tender age of eleven. It would take five years to just partially overcome this feeling with the intervention of a few people who went out of their way to fully show they cared and felt I was worth saving.

I was one of the fortunate ones. With the help of a few, I was able to overcome, in time, the damage that had been done to me. Today there continues to be a constant flow of children aging out of the system who are not as fortunate as I was.

Each move also seemed to bring a new social worker along with it. It made me wonder why. Why did it seem person after person gave up on me? Why didn’t there seem to be a permanent placement in store for me? What was wrong with me? Did anyone really care? These are not the questions a young child should be asking themselves. The rapid turnover of social services caseworkers is one of the problems with foster care. After a few months, many change jobs. When a caseworker resigns, children can get lost. The stress of the caseworker job makes it hard to endure for very long.

>From what I have memories of, it seemed I was placed in decent foster homes in most instances. Maybe my memory has done me a favor by forgetting possible bad experiences. The one bad experience however has enough horrible memories that I don’t need others. However, as with society as a whole, one would expect to find a bad apple or two in the barrel.

Again, it was not the families, in most cases, that served as my foster parents that damaged me…it was the merry-go-round of moves themselves.

Though each of us are responsible for the decisions and actions we make in our lives and must bear the consequences of them, I wonder if, in many instances, those decisions or actions would have been different for many if it had not been for their foster care experiences.

One never fully leaves the system. It remains a part of you throughout your life. Much of it remains deep within us never to be revealed to others. We, many times, keep it inside so as not to have to relive the heartache and pains of our youth. But they still remain a part of us. It can play a role in our ability to have loving, trusting relationships with others. For many it plays a determining role in decisions that will affect them throughout their lives. Though we must each be held accountable for our decisions, I also feel society needs to also bear some of the accountability for those poor decisions.

Children are very fragile. They want to be loved so sadly that they will do whatever they are told just to cope. Inside they are dying. They are not able to form who they really are. How could they?

If you really want to know what a foster child thinks, look into their eyes, the story is right there.

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I JUST WANTED A HUG AND SOMEONE TO SMILE AT ME, LOOK ME IN THE FACE AND TELL ME I WAS WORTH SOMETHING AND I WAS GOING TO BE OK???

If society expects children to grow up to be mature, productive members of society, they then must see that each child is given the appropriate tools needed to achieve that goal. Instability caused by moves, inability to trust those responsible for your care only causes reaching the goal extremely more difficult if not almost impossible for some.

Another of the major problems with the foster care system is simple: an underlying premise that biological families are better than adoptive families. We must protect the family at any and all cost. Reunification is the priority goal whether it is in the best interest of the child or not. The biologicalparents have rights while the child who is being neglected, abused or abandoned has none. The children are left the voiceless and the forgotten.

I did not have a biological family to be returned to since I was given up at birth for adoption. Still the records show no real strong effort to have me adopted. When a family came for three different times to adopt me they were denied for reasons that were definitely not in my best interest. I am the rarity today of those placed in foster care… not the rule. Today, most are placed due to dysfunctional families who have either neglected, abused or abandoned in one fashion or another. A growing number of kids go into the foster care system and never get out. And the worst is the misperceptions of the foster care system and the belief that only bad kids end up in foster care.

Most people think of foster children as messed up ghetto kids who are looking for just the right benevolent parents who are willing to devote their lives to helping these special needs children.

This perception does explain the reason so many people who want to adopt normal children choose to spend their life savings for lawyers and private adoption agencies, rather than taking advantage of the immense adoption systems, set up and run by so many government agencies. However, that perception and subsequent reaction only creates more problems.

Every year, thousands of children are either abused or abandoned by their birth parents, (who are not really parents but merely womb donors and sperm donors) and subsequently end up in foster care. These are usually wonderful children who only need love and caring to have a fantastic and normal life.

Most children are in foster care absolutely through no fault of their own except being born to parents unable or unwilling to care for them in the fashion that they have the right to expect!

Yet the system seems to prefer biological reunion over adoption. Why else would they go to such extreme lengths to preserve these dysfunctional family units? Why else do judges willingly send children back to the Hell from which they came, over and over again? Why would normally sane people risk the lives of innocent children simply to keep children with their biological parents? Why would anyone think it healthy for a child to visit each week with the man who raped them, or the woman who held them in a scalding tub of water, or the parents who beat them to unconsciousness? The answer is simple: because biology is better than adoption. “Says Who!?”

Now, all we have to do is convince all the lawyers, judges, lawmakers, social workers, and therapists that their premise is indeed very, very false. Once we make a reality, the premise of the family court system to “Always do what is in the best interest of the child!”, we will be on our way to a sane and just foster care system. This is spoken of today as it has been for years. Ask the children in care and they will respond it, “It is a joke, a myth…not reality!

Imagine how many people would be willing to become foster parents if the system actually protected the children? People aren’t afraid fostering these children. People are afraid that they will be forced to send a child they love back into the arms of a monster. The question all judges should be asking themselves is this: “Would I let my own child spend the weekend with these people?” If the answer is “No,”then NO child should be sent to live there. Children’s lives should not be sacrificed just to maintain biological connections.

There are so many supposed legal rights of children with far too many loopholes. Then there are the legal rights of the parents…the system gives them too many chances to try to make it work and to better themselves and return to being a family. It takes time to go through rehab and I think it is pushed way too fast for the sake of time, money and looking good on the books.

Many children come into the system initially at an early age, and without the problems they have by the time they are finally (if ever) adopted. The longer they are in the system, the more problems they are likely to develop. Yet the length of time a child is in the system continues to get longer. The only thing they get better at is moving. Most foster children can pack everything they own in the world (toys, clothes, and all their worldly possessions) in today’s “paper bags,” and usually do on a regular basis.

The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. The more problems they have, the worse the reputation that foster care kids get. The worse the reputation foster kids have, the fewer the number of people who adopt them. The fewer people who adopt them, the longer kids have to stay in foster care. The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. And so on, and so on!

The problem with the foster care system is this vicious circle.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in family and the values of it. So if they can come back together, GREAT! But the time frame is not long enough, due to the systems restraints and the kids take the brunt end of it. There is way too much tolerance of the adults, who should know better, and of course some will say “Well, they were abused.” or “Well they should know better themselves.” This brings up the adult mental state of mind and another string of pros and cons.

So why do the kids take it in the shorts? Children are not punching bags and they do have feelings!!!

Children deserve a much greater protection under the law than adults because they are not capable of defending themselves. And yet, they receive exactly the opposite, less protection! Can you imagine a man beating his wife to within an inch of her life, and then a judge saying to this woman, “Well, since your husband has successfully completed ten weeks of counseling, I order you to live together again as a family unit. We must protect the family at all cost!” He would be removed from the bench. Yet, time and time again judges do this to children!

Social workers, lawmakers, judges or anyone in the position of making decisions regarding a child removed from their home need to ask the questions: “Would I let my own child spend the weekend with these people? Would I allow my own child to remain in this situation or be returned to this situation?” If the answer is “No,” to any of these questions then “NO” child should be sent to live there. Children’s lives should not be sacrificed just to maintain biological connections.

The reluctance to terminate parental rights is destroying far too many lives in this country. Until our judicial system realizes that the act of conception does not automatically give anyone the right to be a Mommy or Daddy. These titles must be earned. If they are not, no child’s life is worth the time it takes to find out if an abusive or neglectful person can turn things around, and eventually become a parent. Few ever do, and the ones who do may start a family when they are ready to do so. In the meantime, the results of their first attempt at parenthood should be living a happy, productive life with real parents.

There are children in foster care that should have never been placed there in the first place. Being poor or of low-income are not justifiable grounds to have your children removed. As long as parents are able to provide the basic needs of their children in a safe, clean setting while being nurturing and loving, the children should remain in their home. If a parent needs some parenting classes, this can be done while the children remain in the home.

The system should be offering help to families in need. Many families benefit from these services. Many families need help in times of crisis.

However, when someone inflicts unspeakable physical, emotional, or sexual pain upon a child, they do not deserve the chance to do it again.

Child Protective Services also must be extremely careful when allegations are made against the parents, whether it be the children, family members or neighbors. Too many false allegations get reported today. Too many parents are left having to prove their innocence rather than CPS proving their guilt. It is a tough balancing act but caution is the word!

People who care about children must be vocal about protecting foster children.

We must remember that these kids are our future. They need time and nurturing to develop as people. We must be cautious and inform them in terms at their level of the things that are affecting their lives.

In the end we foster children grow up just like everyone else, but our thoughts and attitudes are very different when it comes to many things. Some of us grow up with much hatred of life in our hearts and never adjust. Some of us grow up addicted to drugs, alcohol, pain, sex and etc, etc., Feeling that is what we deserve, since after all, our parents didn’t love us. Finally some of us get lucky. We realize that what we were given as a child was a bad break. We realize that life is ours for the taking, we must make the best of ourselves we can. The key is to forgive those who have abused us in the past, they are human, keeping that always in mind humans make mistakes.

We deserve the best. Life is a choice and nothing is handed to us…nothing is free and with that in mind, we grow into productive adults.

This is a subject very close to my heart. There is so much to be said and done. I pray for the system and do what I can. I thank God that there are many that have already stepped up to the plate to fight for reform of the system.

OK now you say, “Larry it takes time.” I know that but how much time do the kids have??

The system, yesterday, today and the future is still the system…a system…which is badly broken!

It has gotten worse, but it also has gotten better. There are so many variables that could be brought up that would scare the average person. The government rules for each entity are so involved and is full of red tape. That is why most folks give up.

I will say this again though and you will have to pardon my repeating of myself. We all have to go back to family values. What is a family unit? The family has taken a step back in priority in many peoples lives today and the end result is what is happening. Now before someone goes off, let me clarify one thing, it is not easy making a judgment call whether a child is returned to its biological family or a foster facility and I for one never want to have to make that call. I am not saying it is always done incorrectly, but the child has to be given the utmost attention at any given decision.

Do you really know what they are thinking, feeling or needing? And most would like to say or ask. “HELL NO, They don’t care!” They don’t take the time and that is one thing that gripes me to no end. This child is supposed to just adjust, ask any questions, act upset or act up and if they do they can be pulled and shoved someplace else.

I may be an adult now, but I have fought every inch of the way to be where I am. I had to go without food, sleep on an unheated porch, be sexually assaulted and live through many other things that are not important now…I made it.

That is why I am who I am today. Trust me when I say, take nothing or no one for granted. I never gave up, because I wanted to be better. I had few advocates in latter later years in the system that used to tell me; “They cared about me, I was worth something and that I must always remember that.” You have no idea how many times I had to keep repeating that to myself in mind and heart when I finally heard it until I believed it.

I was on my own at eighteen and I have made my share of mistakes, but that is OK…I hope I learned from them.

My point is look at these children, look at your own children. Love them, talk to them, hold them, look in their eyes, let them feel secure. I don’t care if your a volunteer, advocate, friend, family…you are a human being and all these kids really want is love and security !!! DON’T YOU ??

Security is within yourself and you have to teach all children that, no matter what, they have themselves and they will be OK. If we don’t teach them, life will teach them some hard lessons.

As for the system and its placing children, protecting them, don’t make me laugh. I am so sick of kids being used as punching bags, sexual gratification for perverts, verbally beaten down, starved for food and attention and some killed in the process. If you see it, report it and keep reporting it.

Each of us are responsible for children, whether they be our own or not. We have a responsibility to see that all decisions made for them are made in their best interest and not what is convenient for society. When we see children being wronged, we must speak out and see that corrective action is taken. I hear and read from many about how bad the foster care system is and how thankful their children are that they did not have to endure it. However, I do not hear or read, in many cases, them doing anything about it. If we are not part of the solution, then we are also part of the problem. Until we ALL demand action by those in charge of foster care or any program dealing with children…we must hold ourselves accountable along with them.

The system has come along, but there is so much more needed. The louder the voices, the better. It has to start at ground level and go to the top!

The following are a few suggestions to get you started:

1. If you are a healthy person, consider adopting an older child. The rewards will be numerous.

2. Consider becoming a foster parent if you are a patient, loving person.

3. If you know someone who is caring for a foster teenager, offer to help with homework or to mentor the teenager.

4. Teach your children to be very helpful and friendly to all new students in their school. Learning empathy will serve your children well in life. In addition, these new students who might be foster children will feel much better about school.

5. Volunteer in a nearby school to mentor students who are foster children.

6. Write to your legislators and tell them about the need to protect foster children.

7. Talk to social service agencies and plead with them to hire caseworkers who work with foster children that are caring, competent people.

Having been a child whose life was impacted negatively by the foster care system; I do hold myself accountable to do all that I can to change the system that harmed me and continues to harm thousands of children yearly.

I will continue to campaign to help kids in the system. The first is to try, whenever I can get an audience or a willing ear, to speak and write on the subject.

I will use any means available to change the archaic laws, which put so little emphasis on the children’s rights.

I implore anyone who believes in children having the right of a caring, loving, nurturing home and “real” parents to join me in this fight

Will YOU?
 

Final Letter to My Birth Mother

Prelude to the letter…what generated it:

Our relationship over the years following the initial meeting was strained at best. We had never developed a mother/son relationship. Of course, I had not expected that, since at 36 I did not need a mother to raise me.

The relationship we had developed would be destroyed Christmas night 1998.

I had spent Christmas Eve with friends in Fargo, ND and got up very early the next morning for a 13 hour drive to Chicago, IL. My half-sister Claudia lives there with her family and my mother was visiting for the holidays. My sister thought it would be nice for us to spend one holiday together. I arrived in the evening weary and tired from the drive. They had waited Christmas dinner for my arrival.

Claudia, for some weird reason, has a television in her dining room and leaves it on during meals…even Christmas. During the meal a news story came on about GAYS/AIDS. I had never told my mother I was gay, as we did not have the close relationship I felt was needed to share that information. Claudia did know.

As the news story ended, my mother blurted out; “IF I HAD A SON THAT WAS GAY I WOULD WISH HE WOULD GET AIDS AND DIE. I COULD NOT BEAR HAVING A GAY SON!”

Claudia gasped and hollered “MOM!”

My heart felt as though it had been broken and stomped upon a thousand times. I got up from the dinner table and quietly but clearly said; YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT A GAY SON, YOU JUST KILLED HIM.” I walked out from my sister’s home never to see my mother again.

When I left, I checked into a hotel; a 48 year old man spent Christmas night crying himself to sleep. This is how my mother found out her first son is gay. My mother had “given me up” for a second time in my life. This time it was not due to her strict father, nor her inability to care for a child…now it was simply because her son was gay. She not only gave me up…she wished I were dead!

This letter was written to her three days later. It was sent back to me marked “return to sender.”

December 28, 1998

Dear Mother~

This is a very difficult letter for me to write as tears are still in my eyes for my heart is broken.

I never thought I would hear with my own ears the words you expressed on Christmas Day.

I know our relationship in the twelve years since we reunited has not always been a good one. In honesty, I know at times it has been quite strained.

Despite this strain I believe we both have some very cherished memories as well.

I thought, this being our very first Christmas together, would provide yet another of those cherished memories…instead my heart was broken.

I have known pain in my life, but I don’t think I have ever felt the pain I now feel. There I was on Christmas night, in a hotel room alone, crying myself to sleep. The pain has not lessened in the few days that have followed.

Sixteen years ago I began a search for you. It was a long, trying and at times painful search…but it ended in success.

I had another long, trying, painful search in my life. The search for and acceptance of myself.

I began questioning my sexuality at a young age. However, I knew what was going through my head went contrary to everything I had ever been taught. I did not want to be what I thought I was. I fought it every way I possibly could. I went with girls thinking that it would cure me of my thoughts…it did not. I went to counseling in hopes it could steer me straight…it did not. I even went to a priest friend for help…all he did was condemn me to hell.

The thought that I could be gay tormented me throughout my high school years into college. I tried to find solace in a bottle. This only temporally released me of the pain.

The anguish became so torturously painful for me that I thought there was only one way for me to end it…that was to end my own life.

I tried and failed. Failing however gave me the opportunity to meet a wonderful counselor. She made me realize that through all these years of pain and torment I was only denying who I was. I was not choosing to be gay…I was born gay. I should accept and be proud of the person I was. She said many other things in the times we shared together but this was the beginning of the healing I had so long searched.

Yes, Mother, I am gay. No, I did not choose to be gay. Who in their right mind would make such a choice? A choice that could cause a life of possible verbal or physical assault, loss of friends or even loss of family.

I have already suffered three of the four, now I face the possibility of the fourth.

I am who I am Mother. I cannot be anything but who I am.

However, I am still the same person I was just moments before you uttered your hateful words. I am still the son you gave birth to…only now you are aware of one more part of my being.

Being gay, does not make me any less loving son than I have been. It doesn’t make me any less the person you were once proud of.

I know this has come as a shock to you. I don’t expect you to understand it nor even condone it. I only hope that you can accept it and accept me, not as your gay son but as your son that happens to be gay.

I have accepted you, your good points as well as those I do not agree with…I only ask the same in return.

Many years ago you were faced with a decision. I know how painful that decision was for you. The decision you made was due to the circumstances you found yourself in of which you were not in control. You made the decision to give me away for adoption. It was a decision which you thought was best for me. You would not know what that decision caused me in the years that would follow. However, I have never held that decision against you.

You now face that decision once again. This time you are in total control of the decision you make.

Are you going to give me up as your son a second time?

This is your decision and yours alone. This time you need to do the searching. You need to search within yourself and decide can you or can you cannot accept and live with the fact that your first born son is gay.

I know what you said on Christmas Day. I can only hope and pray that it was not what you truly meant. Do you really wish I would get AIDS and die? Would you really be happier to have a dead son rather than a son that is gay?

We have overcome many obstacles during the past twelve years. It had not been an easy road for either of us at times. We are both stubborn and hard headed at times…but hey, those are traits I inherited from you. This obstacle too can be overcome…but it is your decision!

I can forgive if you can accept. I don’t believe that is asking too much from either of us.

We missed so much in the years we were apart. No matter how hard we try we cannot make up for those years. We were, however, given a second chance. A chance to experience things I thought would never be possible. I don’t know how many years we may have to continue our second chance…are you willing to throw whatever those years are away?

We have missed so much together already, I would hate for us to miss so much more.

I cannot force you to decide anything. It is your decision to make. Again, I can only hope and pray it will be a decision that will allow us to spend more time together.

I don’t know, as I write this, if you will in fact read it to its conclusion. I don’t know if you do in fact read it, you will end up crumbling it up and discarding it without giving me a reply.

Whether you reply or not, whether you in fact already consider me dead…I want you to know the following:

I remain glad I took the time and effort to find you. I am glad we were able to be reunited. I am glad we had an opportunity to have some cherished memories. I am glad I have been able to call myself your son.

No matter your decision, I will always be your son. Your decision will only determine if in your heart and mind if I am a son alive or am I dead.

I await your decision.

Your Son you may choose to give up a second time,

Larry
What followed after this letter:

Despite my mother’s words, I hoped and prayed and attempted over the next almost three years, that some degree of reconciliation between us would occur.

She suffered a stroke in 1999. Reconciliation did not happen between us and death took her October 23, 2001. My mother died a very bitter and lonely woman.

However, with her death I knew there was still some unfinished business that one day would have to be faced.

Over a year passed since my Birth Mother’s death when I came to the full realization that her death left a gaping, bloody, festering, open wound deep within me.

Her death had denied us the opportunity of reconciliation, though there had been no evidence in the previous three years that this might happen.

Her death had denied me a final opportunity even to speak my mind to her as to how her words during our final meeting had been like a dagger to the heart.

I cannot say I wanted an opportunity to forgive. I felt then that my Birth Mother had committed the unforgivable. There was no reason for needing to forgive her for giving me up for adoption for that had been a very wise and loving decision. However, how can one forgive another who after twelve years of a relationship wishes you dead only because you are gay? 

I, however, knew I needed to do something to allow this open wound to close and begin to heal. It will never completely heal but a scar can at least allow one to move on.

In an effort to reach out to my Birth Mother shortly after that devastating Christmas of 1998 I sent her the letter above. It contained exactly how I felt from that experience. It contained the story of the struggle I had gone through, including attempted suicide, to accept myself for who I was. It contained my hope of a reconciliation between us. It did not ask that she approve of my being gay rather just that she accept me as she had that day back in 1986…as her son, whether I was gay or not. That letter came back to me marked, “return to sender.” I kept that letter through the final years of her life and in the time that had passed since her death.

This was only one of several attempts to reach out to my Mother for a possible reconciliation. There were attempted phone calls…she only had to hear my voice and she would hang up.

Birthday and Christmas cards were sent by me those last three years only to have them also “returned to sender.”

The most painful, brutal reality for me to deal with were the attempts by my half-sister to reach out to my Mother on my behalf were also rejected. About a month before my Mother’s sudden passing Claudia shared with me that she had again attempted to get my Mother to either accept a call from me or make the call to me herself. My Mother’s words; “He’s dead leave it be!”

It appears though I was not physically dead that in my Mother’s eyes and heart I was in fact dead and would no longer be a part of her life.

A month later she herself was dead.

So the question after her death became; How can I move on without forgiving?

It took over a year of deeply emotional times contemplating this question. The answer would not come easy. It was an answer however that I knew I had to find for my own emotional well being and for healing to begin.

Suddenly the answer came clear out of the blue…you need to let it go! I knew right away how I hoped to accomplish this.

I very much enjoy biking. I have in my hometown discovered a place I enjoy going to…Eagle Point Park.

One early Saturday morning in June, 2003 I set out for that place on my bike. I had with me the letter I had sent my Birth Mother four and a half years earlier.

Throughout the park are hideaways where one can light campfires. After biking awhile I found one spot that was hidden away more than others where I might have a needed time for privacy.

I built a small campfire. I took the letter and held it for a few minutes, then opened it. I slowly unfolded the pages as the emotions welled up inside me. I started to read the letter aloud…Dear Mother!

As I read each line , paragraph or page the tears streamed more readily down my face, the voice cracked more often and the body trembled almost beyond control. I was determined to finish the letter for I had to have my say. I continued on until the closing salutation…the Son you may choose to give up a second time, Larry!

When I had finished reading it I placed each page, one by one, upon the campfire and watched as the flames began to devour them.

As the smoke ascended to the heavens I verbalized the words, “I am now letting go.”

I had read the words I had written my Birth Mother to her and was now sending them up to her to do as she wished. I had finally been able to say all that had been stored within my heart to her. I would no longer allow myself to be burdened with the baggage she had placed on me. I WAS FREE!

YES, in that moment I actually did forgive my Birth Mother. I will never forget those wounds she had inflicted upon me. I, however, would no longer hold onto them. I gave her words as well as mine back to her. I had finally let go! I could move on! Everything was now in her court where it belonged.

I had a few months earlier written to my half sister that had given up the relationship we had prior to our Birth Mother’s death. It had been a last attempt to reach out to her just as I had done our Mother. The letter did not come back but neither had she responded.

When I felt comfortable with everything involving my Mother I took a blank sheet of paper to symbolize the last letter to my half sister and placed it also on the fire. I was also letting go of her as well.

I continued to watch as each page turned from paper to ash.

When it was obvious that there was no more to burn, I doused the fire with the water bottle I had brought with me. I then gathered up the wet ashes and carried them to a secluded spot amongst the trees. I dug a small hole and placed the ashes with it. I then covered them with the dirt and some brush found nearby.

I had not attended my Mother’s funeral but on this day I had my own private one. I buried not only ashes of my letter but also all the pain and anguish caused by her and in doing so I believe I also buried my Mother.

I slowly walked away from that spot. I could feel the gaping wound was already beginning to get just a bit smaller. The healing has begun.

I did not hate my Birth Mother for what she had done. I in matter of fact remember her in prayer. I pray that in death she has found the peace that she was unable or unwilling to obtain in life. I also still thank her for giving me the opportunity of life.

Rest in Peace Mother…I FORGIVE YOU!

A Search Guide for Birth Parents/Adoptees/Foster Youth

I created this special tips blog for adult adoptees, birth parents and some foster children, as I am a strong proponent of “open records.” I believe every person has a birth- given right to know who they are and where they and their ancestors come from.
If states will not pass open records laws for adult adoptees, they should have the right to search if they so choose. I do not believe this right should be extended to minors.

I also include foster children because of my own situation. I was placed for adoption at birth, but instead ended up in the foster care system until I aged out at age eighteen. I had been totally disconnected from my birth family. Sometimes a foster child’s search can be as difficult as an adoptee’s.

I wish many of the tips I am including here were available to me at the time of my own search. However, despite my limitation, my search was successful.

The tips listed below are not listed by importance, only you can determine which might be important to you and what priority it is given.

TIPS
1. Create a search journal. This may assist you in keeping track of the steps you have taken in your search.
2. Discuss the search with your adoptive parents. They may be willing to assist you in your search or be able to provide you with necessary information. Remember to let them know that you love them and your need to search does not, nor will not, affect your relationship with them. This will help them to not feel threatened by your need to search.

3. As early in your search as possible, if you have a computer with Internet access, join adoption and genealogy newsgroups and/or support groups. They cannot only provide resources to search, but may also offer moral support during your search process.

4. Locate your amended birth certificate. Write your State Office of Vital Records for it.

5. Obtain a copy of your final decree of adoption. Write the court that finalized the adoption for it.

6. Obtain your petition to adopt. The same court that finalized your adoption should have this as part of their records.

7. Contact the adoption agency that placed you to obtain non-identifying information. You may possibly receive information you might not expect.

8. Contact the law firm or attorney who assisted in your adoption for the same reason as above.

9. Contact your delivery physician again for the same reason as above.

10. File a waiver of confidentiality with the adoption agency, law firm and courts. This will allow your information to be released to a birth parent or sibling in the event they are searching for you.

11. Apply for medical records from the hospital where you were born ONLY IF you have the name of your birth mother and/or father. Adoption should not be mentioned as you may find this avenue immediately closed to you.

12. Attempt to retrieve your original (pre-adoption) birth certificate. You may not receive it, but you have nothing to lose by requesting it.

13. Formally petition the court to open your adoption records. To forward identifying information, the court will need a reason. An example would be a medical reason. Unfortunately this has not proven very successful, but again, an avenue to try.

14. Register with the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR). Also, if the state in which you were adopted has an adoption registry, register with it. This allows the registry to release information if family is looking for you.

15. Check both county and state records for marriage or divorce records for either birth parent. If you know the names of your birth parent(s) this will be a very useful tool, especially if your birth parents were in fact, at one time married.

16. Learn about the adoption laws for your state. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse.

17. Check county or state death records for birth parents and both grandparents. This record will include who provided the information on the certificate, as well as the funeral home involved. The funeral home could provide you names, addresses and possibly phone numbers of survivors. Requesting my paternal grandfather’s death certificate, on a hunch that he was deceased, is what unlocked all the doors for me in the search for my birth mother.

18. Send for a copy of Where to Write for Birth, Marriage, Divorce, and Death Records available from: Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.

19. Write to Adoption Regulation Unit to access your adoption records.

20. Order a copy of The Guide to Genealogical Records in the National Archives from: The National Archives, Washington, DC 20408. You will also want to check the tips I provide for genealogical research, as some of them could be useful to you.

21. Find maps for the area where you are searching.

22. Create a profile of the hometowns or regions where each of your birth parents is said to have been from.

23. Create a list of all the libraries in your area and the areas where you are focusing your search. They will be a good source for finding obituaries for family members who may be deceased. The obituaries will list survivors which may lead you to your birth family.

24. Check local newspapers from where you were born for birth announcements. Your local library usually has old newspapers going back several years.

25. Check local newspapers from the area where your birth parents were born for their birth announcements.

26. Check local newspapers for wedding and engagement announcements for your birth parents.

27. Check in old city directories to try to locate your birth parents or other relatives. These can be found at many local libraries or historical societies. I tracked my maternal grandfather for over thirty years using this resource. When his name suddenly disappeared, I then requested a death certificate from the state.

28. Check in city directories to match an occupation to a name. Some older city directories actually listed companies where people worked. Finding out where my paternal grandfather had at one time worked led me to my birth father’s sister and eventually to my birth father.

29. Cross reference city directory information year by year.

30. Check in city directories to locate old addresses of birth parents and possible neighbors. Former neighbors of a birth parent may be able to tell you where they might be now.

31. Check phone books and national telephone directory discs for birth relatives.

32. List yourself in the telephone directory of the area where you were born, and in the area where you live now. An unlisted number could lead to a dead end for someone who might be searching for you.

33. Check any possible surnames against a book of name deviations.

34. Speak with your local librarian. They will prove to be invaluable in directing you to many of the resources in this guide.

35. Locate all churches of the faith of your birth parents in the area where they were living at the time of your birth and where they may live now.

36. Check local churches in the area where you were born for any baptismal, marriage or death records.

37. Check local churches in areas where you believe your birth parents may have resided for their baptismal, marriage, or death records.

38. Join a local or national search and support organization, and sign their registry if they maintain one. Support of others during the very stressful search process will prove invaluable to you and they may also be able to provide tips and clues for you to use. One group that proved very helpful during my search was ALMA (Adoptees Liberation Movement Association). Most major cities have a local chapter.

39. Create your own library of search and reunion books.

40. Advertise in adoption search magazines. Be sure to list your “birth name” if you know it as well as your “adoptive name.”

41. Advertise in newspapers where you believe your birth parents may now reside.

42. Order a copy of How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military 1-800-937-2133.

43. Contact old neighbors for forwarding addresses and other possible information.

44. Visit old neighborhoods in person to locate past acquaintances of your birth parents.

45. Check with former employers about possible forwarding addresses of birth parents.

46. Check old high school and college yearbooks in the areas of your search.

47. Check with high school or college reunion chairman about the current address of a birth parent or request a list of entire class.

48. Contact a private investigator or consultant. I suggest this only if all else leads to a dead end. Investigate any investigator before hiring them.

49. Request from the court that finalized your adoption the appointment of a Court Investigator. The CI will attempt their best to locate a birth parent or sibling. However, they will only be able to provide non-identifying information directly to you. They will ask you to write a letter to the person found without identifying information. All communication will be through the CI. Only if the person found agrees to have contact made can the CI then assist in a reunion or the exchange of identifying information.

50. Leave no stone unturned…you never know where you might find the gold nugget of information you have been looking for!

Might I make one more suggestion? If you find your birth parents and a reunion is planned here is an idea for a gift. Make a book which might include pictures, any news articles of accomplishments and possibly a letter about you, why you searched and that you are happy you located them.

When I met my Birth Mother for the first time, I gave her a red rose for each of the thirty-six years of the life she had given me. As I left her suite at the end of our first day together, I gave her “my book” so that she could read it privately after I left. When I met her the next morning she greeted me with tears, a hug and a thank you. Despite how our relationship ended twelve years later, I believe that book is something she treasured for the rest of her life. She passed away in October 2001.

This guide of tips does not guarantee success. It is a tool to use in your search and not an all inclusive one at that.

I hope you will find it useful and I further hope your journey will in the end meet your goal.